How Do I Repent and Change?

Repentance from dead works is the first of the foundational truths listed in Hebrews 6. But how well do we really understand it and how many of us truly practice repentance?

When I was baptized, the minister asked if I’d repented of my sins and accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. I meant it when I said yes, but I’m not sure I really understood how much more repentance is than just an, “I’m sorry I messed up.” It involves a change in our innermost being that manifests in a commitment to turn away from things displeasing to God.

As we prepare for Passover, we ask God for feedback on how we’re doing in our walk with Him. We examine ourselves to see if there are hidden sins in our lives and ponder how we can become better examples of our Lord Jesus. But we can’t stop there. We have to act on what we learn.

click to read article, "How Do I Repent and Change?" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Photo credit: “Remember this day” by Tim Sackton, CC BY-SA via Flickr

David’s Example

Psalm 51 is perhaps the best example we have in the entire Bible of repentance. David wrote it after committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed. There were consequences for those sins, but David was forgiven. He didn’t just “get away with it” because he was king and God wanted to keep working with him. David was forgiven because he confessed and repented from a humbled heart (unlike the previous king, Saul, who made excuses when confronted with his sin). Continue reading

Are There Sins Separating Me From God?

There’s a fairly prevalent idea out there in Christianity that our sins separate us from God because God can’t be in the presence of sin. But is it true that God pulls back from us because we’re too dirty for Him, or is there something else going on?

The idea that God can’t be around sin is largely based on a verse in Habakkuk that reads, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13, KJV). When we look at the context, though, we see God just told Habakkuk He planned to work with the vicious Chaldeans, and this verse is part of Habakkuk asking God why He would ever associate with such wickedness.

If we accept the premise that Jesus was and is fully God (as I believe we should), then we know God doesn’t shrink back from sin as if scared to get His hands dirty. Rather, He dives right in among sinners so that He can wipe sin away and replace it with holiness. God gets close to sinful people so He can set things right.

But there are also verse that talk about iniquity separating us from God and revealing that God will not fellowship with evil. While we don’t have to worry that we’re so filthy God wouldn’t touch us, if we want a close relationship with Him we need to figure out what’s going on here. Continue reading

Am I Ready To Hear What God Says?

As the Passover approaches, those of us who believe Jesus intended modern-day Christians to observe it are given a task. Before following Jesus’ instruction to take the Passover symbols “in remembrance of Me,” we’re told to examine ourselves.

For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks the Lord’s cup in a way unworthy of the Lord will be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup. (1 Cor. 11:26-19, WEB)

Every year I hear these scriptures read, and every year since my baptism in 2008 I ask myself, “How?” What can I do to examine myself and determine if I’m keeping the Passover in a worthy manner?”

click to read article, "Am I Ready To Hear What God Says?" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Photo credit: “Remember this day” by Tim Sackton, CC BY-SA via Flickr

The Lord Examines

Perhaps the reason why I’ve always felt like I was hitting a wall when trying to examine myself is found in a very familiar scripture:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? I, Yahweh, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. (Jer. 17:9-10, WEB)

There’s no way we can successfully examine ourselves without God’s help. Maybe that should have been obvious, but I only connected it with Passover after hearing Len Martin’s sermon on self-examination (which you can listen so by clicking here; I highly recommend it). We need to ask God to examine us, or our self-examination isn’t going to bear much fruit. Continue reading

Top 5 Reasons for Christians to Keep God’s Holy Days

Today we celebrate Yom Teruah, also called Feast of Trumpets and Rosh Hashanah. But why? After all, I’m Christian and most people think of this as a Jewish holiday. Same goes for Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, which we’ll observe 10 days from now, and Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles that starts in two weeks.

I believe these festival observances, along with others already completed this year, are for Christians today. When Jesus came to this world, it wasn’t to set up a new religion. He was the next step in God’s plan for the world and these days are part of the covenant He makes with His family. He’s still inviting us to gather for “reunions” at certain times of the year.Top 5 Reasons for Christians to Keep God's Holy Days | marissabaker.wordpress.com

1. They Belong To God

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts.” (Lev. 23:1-2)

The holy days aren’t Jewish or exclusively Old Testament. They belong to God Himself. We talk about Leviticus 23 as the chapter where God gives Israel the Feasts, but that’s not quite accurate. God doesn’t say, “Here are your holy days, Israel.” He says, “These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times” (Lev. 23:4). Continue reading

Rhythms of Worship

The people of God are set apart, with different priorities, habits, and festivals than the rest of the world. We may celebrate national holidays of our homelands, such as July 4th for Americans, but those are not the observances that shape our identities as God’s people. The kingdom we belong to under Christ’s authority has a different calendar.

A couple months ago, I read Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith. In Chapter 5: Practicing (for) the Kingdom, he discusses “rhythms and cadences of hope” that Christians observe in weekly and annual practices. For him, this means Sunday, Easter, Lent, Advent, Christmas and others. He connects the observances to a rich history of “a people gathered to worship the Messiah, who does not float in some esoteric, ahistorical heaven, but who made a dent in the calendar — and will again” (p. 157). Rhythms of Worship | marissabaker.wordpress.com

But when you read the Bible, you won’t find those days he talks about on God’s calendar. Even the one mention of Easter in the KJV is a mistransltion of pascha, or Passover (Acts 12:4, Strong’s G3957). Rather, we find the church from the Torah to Revelation on a calendar even more unique than the one Smith claims for Christians. I know it puzzles many Christians that I would keep the “Jewish holidays,” but I find it equally puzzling that they would continue a tradition of co-opting pagan holidays and attaching them to Biblical events God gave no instructions to observe. When we search the scriptures looking for God’s version of liturgical rhythms, we find a worship pattern far more richly layered and deeply rooted in God’s plan than what man has invented. Continue reading

Firstfruits From the Rejects

All the holy days point to Jesus Christ, often in multiple ways. For the soon-approaching Pentecost — the Feast of Firstfruits — Jesus is Himself “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” because He was the first of God’s people to raise from the dead to eternal life (1 Cor. 15:20-23). He’s also the one who redeemed us, making it possible for us to be firstfruits, and He’s the reason we receive the Holy Spirit, which was first given to the New Testament church on Pentecost (John 14:26; 16:7).

On the surface, the term “firstfruits” simply refers to the first agricultural produce of the harvest season. In the Hebrew scriptures, firstfruits were offered to God before you harvested anything for yourself. This offering occurred after Passover on a Sunday morning and kicked-off the 50-day count to Pentecost (Lev. 23:1-21).

Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks or Feast of Harvest, pays a key role in God’s plan. Even churches that no longer keep the other holy days often mark Pentecost because that’s when the Holy Spirit was given to the New Testament church (Acts 2:1-4). In Leviticus 23, instructions about the wave-sheaf, 50-day count, and Pentecost occupy more than 1/3 of the entire chapter. Clearly, there’s something here we’re supposed to take careful note of.

Gleanings and Ruth

Embedded in the holy days discussion of Leviticus 23 is a peculiar verse. It doesn’t seem related to the chapter’s subject, yet it follows immediately after the instructions about Pentecost.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 23:22)

Why would God put this law in place while discussing the holy days? It doesn’t seem to make sense. It does, however, connect Pentecost with the story of Ruth. In Jewish tradition, Ruth is read every Pentecost, and perhaps that’s a clue as to why the law of gleanings is discussed here.

When Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem they’re both poor and Ruth was a “stranger,” a Moabitess instead of an Israelite. She more than qualified for gleaning under the law given in Leviticus, as well as the repetition in Deuteronomy 24:19 which added the “fatherless” and the “widow” to the list of those who could glean.

Instead of just letting Ruth glean, Boaz offered her protection (Ruth 2:9), provided food for her (2:14), and told his reapers to drop grain on purpose so she could glean as much as she wanted (2:15-16). When she first meets Boaz, Ruth’s relation to him is strikingly similar to us when first encountering Christ. He is good, and wealthy, and powerful while we have nothing. We don’t deserve anything from Him, and yet He offers us blessings beyond expectation.

Opening Salvation

When Jesus died, He opened up the covenants to non-Israelites. Prior to accepting His sacrifice, we were all “strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). We were the sort of people who couldn’t expect more than the gleanings.

But He answered [the Gentile woman] and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” (Matt. 15:26-27)

Jesus did honor this woman’s faith and heal her daughter (Matt. 15:21-28), but by-and-large people outside Israel didn’t have access to God before the cross. Strangers who converted, like Ruth (Ruth 1:16; 2:12), were the exception rather than the rule. That didn’t really happen until after Christ’s Passover sacrifice, His ascension to the Father on wave-sheaf Sunday (click here for a timeline), and the Pentecost recorded in Acts 2.

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

Peter didn’t realize this included Gentiles until latter (Acts 10:34-35, 44-48; 11:18), but speaking by inspiration of the Spirit He still proclaimed salvation for all whom God calls. This was a huge step in God’s plan to save the world through Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 12:47), and it’s connected with Pentecost.

Redeemed Firstfruits

In the epistle of James, we’re told the Father “brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). The church is composed of the first people God will “harvest” from the world. We’re a rather unusual sort of firstfruits, though.

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)

God picks us up from the things devalued and discarded by the world. In other words, He finds His firstfruits among the gleanings. He’s taking people who are underwhelming and overlooked and transforming us into something glorious. Like Ruth, we were strangers who are brought into fellowship with God’s people by a Redeemer (Ruth 2:20; Tit. 2:13-14).